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Oscars 2002 Friday, 7 December, 2001, 17:10 GMT
Peter Jackson: King of the Rings
Peter Jackson, Christopher lee and Liv Tyler
Jackson (R) has hit the big time along with Rings stars Lee and Tyler
New Zealand director Peter Jackson has become an international celebrity with Fellowship of the Ring but the film is far removed from his early projects.

New Zealand has always reserved its greatest adulation for sporting giants like Richard Hadlee and Jonah Lomu, but a place must now be found on the victory dais for director Peter Jackson.

Peter Jackson is the director and co-writer of the mammoth trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films.

And his first Rings movie, Fellowship of the Rings, has immerses movie-goers in the saga of a perilous quest by hobbits, elves, dwarves and men to save Middle Earth from dark forces.

Scene from the film, with Sean Astin and Elijah Wood
Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee and Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
The hit movie - starring Elijah Woods, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Sir Ian McKellen - enough in itself to guarantee Jackson's celebrity status.

But what elevates him to hero status is his success in persuading the Hollywood backers, New Line Cinema, to film the £210m project in New Zealand, a country many Americans would have trouble locating on the global map.

Jackson was adamant: "New Zealand is the best country in the world to shoot this film, because of the variety of locations we have."

Amateur

The beauty of New Zealand was not the only inducement, though. There was also the prospect of better value for money than the US could offer.

In particular, Jackson's custom-built studio in Wellington created the hundreds of computer-generated special effects at a fraction of Hollywood charges.

It means an economic boom for Wellington, a capital city of only 150,000 people.

Jackson was only 12 when he made his first film, about the World War II. He and a couple of friends dug a hole in the garden, and Jackson demonstrated his early verve for special effects by making holes in the celluloid to simulate gunshots.

JRR Tolkien
Tolkien the myth-maker
Financing his efforts from his work as a photo-engraving apprentice at a Wellington newspaper, Jackson's amateur movie-making continued until one film, Bad Taste, changed his life at 22.

Shooting at weekends only, it took four years to complete, as Jackson directed, produced, filmed and starred in a number of acting roles.

The film, a sci-fi comedy about aliens abducting Earth people to use as food in an outer-space fast food restaurant, was awash with vomit and blood.

But it possessed enough originality to persuade the chairman of the New Zealand Film Commission to take it to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acclaimed by most critics and sold to 30 countries.

Oscars

Meet the Feebles, characterised as "the Muppet show on drugs", and a gory zombie comedy, Braindead, followed, before Peter Jackson made another breakthrough in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures.

Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
With partner and co-writer Fran Walsh
Featuring a then unknown Kate Winslet, the subtle, scary movie about a famous New Zealand murder case brought Oscar nominations for Jackson and Fran Walsh for their original screenplay.

In marked contrast, the two came up with the unlikely idea of adapting Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings six years ago.

"It just popped into our heads", said 40-year-old Jackson, who lives in Wellington with Fran Walsh, and their two young children.

'Honour'

It should have been a daunting ambition. But, as many of the 100 million people who have bought the book will testify, its imagination was begging to be made into a film.

"Tolkien made his world as a mythology for Britain," said Jackson. "He mourned the fact that, unlike Scandinavia, England didn't really have an ancient mythology.

"We have tried to honour his book with a film that has more of an historical feeling than a fantasy."

Jackson is now working on the post-production of the second and third films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and the orc-infested nightmares he had while shooting have gone.

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